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Battlefield Dispatches No. 277: 'Cutting to pieces'

Friday, August 12, 2011

This past Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011, was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Wilson's Creek, west of Springfield, Mo.

This engagement was one of the largest and most significant battles of the Civil War that occurred west of the Mississippi River. Kansas was represented in this battle by the participation of the 1st and 2nd Kansas Volunteer Infantry Regiments.

This and future columns will include, in a timely manner, descriptions of battles or parts of the battles and incidents in conjunction with the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, which is from 2011--2015.

Whenever possible, this will include accounts of Kansas soldiers fighting in a respective battle or happenings in Kansas, Missouri, the Indian or Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma) and Arkansas.

Following is the description of the 1st Kansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment's participation in the Battle of Wilson's Creek, and it is located in Series I, Vol. 3 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Pages 82-83.

"HDQRS, First Regt. Kansas Volunteers,

Camp Rolla, (Mo.), Aug. 19, 1861.

Sir: The regimental commander has the honor to report that after a fatiguing night march of 12 miles, the 1st Kansas came upon the battlefield near Springfield, Mo., on the morning of Aug. 10 in the rear of the 1st Missouri and Iowa Regiments, the former with a battalion of regular infantry, having been deployed as skirmishers (an advance party).

Very soon the enemy's outposts were driven in, and Totten's (artillery) Battery took position and opened fire, while the 1st Missouri was closed up in line on the right and in front, where they engaged the enemy and maintained position for some moments under a heavy fire.

At this time, under order from General Lyon, the 1st Kansas moved to the front in double-quick, while the right wing and one company from the left, under the command respectively of captains Chenoweth, Walker, Swift, Zesch, McFarland and Lt. McGonigle, all under Col. Deitzler, advanced to a position beyond that occupied by the 1st Missouri and here forming in the very face of the enemy, engaged a rebel force four times their number and held their ground steadfastly under uninterruped and murderous fire of artillery and infantry.

The four remaining companies of captains Clayton, Roberts, Stockton and Lt. Agniel, all under the command of Maj. Halderman, having been posted on the right of Totten's Battery as support, where they suffered severely from a constant fire from the enemy's lines, were here ordered to the front, where they aligned upon the remnant of the six right companies, which had thus far borne the brunt of the battle. With but slight and immaterial changes of position, the 1st Kansas occupied this ground for over two hours, repulsing and "cutting to pieces" one (enemy) regiment after another as it was brought to the front.

While thus employed, captains Chenoweth and Clayton and a portion of Capt. McFarland's company were ordered to charge the enemy with their commands, which order they executed with great promptness, driving the enemy inside their encampment lines at the base of the hill and returning to the main force, when threatened by a flank movement, at their own imminent peril and with considerable loss of life. While leading this charge, Col. Deitzler had his horse shot under him and was himself severely wounded.

About this time, the 2nd Kansas Regiment was ordered to the front, but when at a point in the rear that was occupied by the 1st Kansas, they were fired upon by the enemy from an ambush, by which Gen. Lyon was killed and Col. Mitchell severely wounded, both of whom were at the head of the column. (Note: Gen. Nathaniel Lyon was the first "Union" general killed in the Civil War.) Here, too many officers and men of the 2nd were killed and wounded.

After this, the regiment, under Lt. Col. Charles W. Blair (from Fort Scott), fell back in order to the brow of the hill where it formed, and at which place the remaining companies of the 1st Kansas formed upon their left, three companies having been posted on the brow of the hill on the right of the battery.

After a short cessation of the volley firing, it was recommenced by the enemy with great fury and so continued for at least 10 minutes, when our whole line opened upon them a most destructive fire, at which they broke and fled down the hill toward their encampment.

At this time, by command of Maj. Sturgis, who throughout the engagement had acted with the utmost courage and self-possession, we retired from the field in good order, preceded by the ambulances containing our wounded. With scarcely any material change of position, the 1st Kansas stood under fire, maintained every ground assigned it, without once turning its back upon the foe, for the five long hours during which the battle raged.

With about 800 men we marched upon the field; we left it with but 500.

The regimental commander deems it hardly necessary to say that all the officers and men of this command fought with a courage and heroism rarely, if ever equaled.

The list of killed, wounded and missing hereto attached (77 killed, 187 wounded, 20 missing, total 284) is the strongest witness for the valor of the living, as well as for the memory of the gallant dead.

I am, sir, very respectfully yours,

JOHN A. HALDERMAN,

Major, first Regiment Kansas Volunteers, Commanding."

Next week's column will feature the "After Action Report" of "Fort Scott's Own" Lt. Col. Charles W. Blair who commanded the 2nd Kansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Battle of Wilson's Creek on Aug. 10, 1861, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches